- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Knopf Canada (March 10 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345808479
- ISBN-13: 978-0345808479
- Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.2 x 23.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 481 g
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #122,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A Measure of Light: A Novel Hardcover – Mar 10 2015
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Longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award
WINNER of the 2016 Atlantic Book Awards’ New Brunswick Book Award for Fiction
“[A] compelling, gorgeously written novel. . . . Fans of Powning know she is excellent at describing nature as part of the rhythm of daily life.” —Elissa Barnard, The Chronicle Herald
“Beth Powning is one of Canada’s literary gems and A Measure of Light is a truly stunning novel, brilliantly evoking seventeenth century England and America. A sweeping novel that moves back and forth across the Atlantic, it also uncovers the rigidity of those who thought they had brought religious freedom to the New World only to be caught up by their own beliefs. This is indeed a novel that deserves a place on your bookshelf. And if you haven’t read them, buy or borrow Powning’s other novels. They are equally enchanting.” —Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times (Owen Sound)
“It’s a page-turner with a growing sense of foreboding as Powning depicts how ambition and power corrupt human beings. . . . It’s chilling to read about the pain and sacrifice endured by Mary and other free-thinking women in such a deeply misogynistic culture. . . . [Powning] describes Mary’s life with beautiful subtlety, never using a broadaxe to draw comparisons with the mores of modern times. Instead she uses subtlety and grim humour.” —Linda Diebel, Toronto Star
“Beth Powning is known for her lyrical, powerful writing and the profound emotional honesty of her work. . . . This gripping historical fiction captures the spirit of a truly courageous woman struggling for women’s rights, liberty of conscience, intellectual freedom and justice.” —UNB Newsroom
“In Beth Powning’s latest novel, faith collides with religious intolerance, and luscious writing acts as a counterpoint to an often stark story. . . . Remarkable book. A Measure of Light is a true story that Powning has transformed into a work of art. . . . Powning created
Mary’s early years, added characters, fictionalized dialogue and cast the entire story in a frame of writing so rich in description that is almost verges on becoming voluptuous at times. . . . Powning offsets the austere existence of the Puritans and Quakers with warm, evocative writing. She has a gift for producing . . . wonderful images. . . . The world of Mary Dyer is palpable and real, as are the characters who inhabit the book. . . . Powning, who lives near Sussex, N.B., shows again that she is in the top tier of Canadian novelists. If there is a comparison to be drawn, then it is with one of the best historical novelists, Penelope Fitzgerald. With Fitzgerald, Powning shares the ability to create gorgeous, tactile scenes that are at once original and alive with life. A Measure of Light transcends genre writing; rather, it is a keenly intelligent, memorable work of literature, and that rare thing, a book worth returning to again.” —Charles Mandel, Telegraph-Journal
“A Measure of Light is a dark, shatteringly exquisite book. . . . Prose-wise, there isn’t a page in A Measure of Light where something extraordinary doesn’t happen. Like a method actor, Powning has infiltrated Mary’s world so completely that she seems to write from squarely within its walls. . . . It’s been suggested that Canadians embrace historical fiction because we’re insecure about our putatively drab, uneventful history. That one of the finest books in the genre to come along in ages should be about the birth of the country that’s the wellspring of so much of that insecurity is, then, both ironic and entirely fitting.” —Emily Donaldson, The Globe and Mail
“Powning writes about grief with uncanny precision; she gets all its ambushes and piercing aches exactly right.” —Lisa Moore, National Post
“Equal parts character study, travelogue and action-adventure tale, The Sea Captain's Wife is a marvellous read.” —Edmonton Journal
“Beth Powning has a talent for mining the past for its best stories. . . . A Measure of Light, like the best of historical fiction, explores lives from the past that provides insight into our lives today. . . . Powning uses both imagined letters and actual trial transcripts in tracing her life; the language is often arcane but never dull.” —Chuck Erion, The Record (Waterloo)
“Based on the true story of one of America’s first Quakers, this dramatic work of historical fiction shows New Brunswick author Beth Powning at her lyrical best.” —The United Church Observer
“A Measure of Light is a spellbinding work of biographical fiction, gorgeously written in spare, crystalline prose I found reminiscent of the finest writers of literary historical fiction today (Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier and Hilary Mantel come to mind). A brilliant evocation of seventeenth-century England and America, it’s the story of one woman’s search for faith and the horrific sacrifices she makes once she finds it. Grim yet luminous—as well as illuminating. In a word: enchanting.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy
“In this exquisitely written, sweeping novel, Beth Powning gives a tantalizing exploration into the life of Mary Dyer. A complex and rebellious woman unwaveringly faithful to her own beliefs, Dyer struggles with guilt, estrangement, and the troubling ways of love as she fights for religious freedom. Powning is a confident, elegant writer. Her insightful, often tender prose creates layers of imagery that are both brave and poignant. No reader will remain unmoved by her rendition of Mary Dyer’s compelling story.” —Linda Holeman, bestselling author of The Lost Souls of Angelkov and The Devil on Her Tongue
About the Author
BETH POWNING's previous books include Seeds of Another Summer: Finding the Spirit of Home in Nature, a collection of lyrical prose and photographs that celebrates the natural beauty of her New Brunswick home. Shadow Child, shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, is a memoir of coming to terms with the stillbirth of her first son. Edge Seasons, a Globe and Mail Best Book, is a personal memoir about transformation--about seasonal change within the natural world around her and in her life. Her previous novels are the bestsellers The Hatbox Letters and The Sea Captain's Wife. In 2010, Beth was awarded New Brunswick's Lieutenant-Governor's Award for High Achievement in English-Language Literary Arts. She lives on a 300-acre farm near Sussex, New Brunswick, with her husband, the sculptor Peter Powning.
Top customer reviews
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The book is beautifully written, and thorough researched. The sensuous detail of the seventeenth century is so vivid I felt I was right there. The narrative is well paced, with the tension gradually building right to the end. I couldn't put it down - I looked forward to the end of every day so I could get back to the book.
The reason I'm only giving it three stars is because of my ambivalence towards the main character. I didn't actively dislike her, but I didn't have much sympathy for her, either. My opinion of her was somewhat mitigated by the implication that she may have been suffering from depression, but that wasn't drawn well enough to be an explanation for her choices. She repeatedly abandoned her children. She repeatedly defied legal edicts that carried the death penalty, were they to be broken, and for very little benefit even when she did evade punishment. Now, I'm not a religious person, so my assessment is coloured by the fact that I don't find religious fanaticism (no matter the stripe) or martyrdom to be worthy of respect.
Still, a good read for lovers of history.
The Puritans had been persecuted in England and came to New England to be free to worship and carry out their beliefs without the fear of imprisonment, torture or death for their dissent from the established religion.They brought with them a religious fervour and were soon committing public whippings and hangings for those who did not strictly adhere to their rigid beliefs and conform to their manner of worship.They were soon causing the same fear and turmoil from which they had escaped.
The story told here about Mary Dyer follows the known historical facts. She was a woman strong in her beliefs, and I felt I was supposed to admire her character.Instead I was appalled by her religious fanaticism and her neglect of her husband and children. She arrogantly centred on her own beliefs and was seldom home to the detriment of her family. She admitted a lack of motherly instincts. One of her children was stillborn and severely deformed which to the Puritans was a sign some of evil in her life. There was an apparent desire for martyrdom on her part, She was tried in Boston by a Puritan court and sentenced to hanging, but received a pardon at the very last minute while on the scaffold.
Told that she must never return to Boston on order of death, Mary went back to visit her estranged family briefly, but returned to Boston knowing the fate that awaited her.
I felt I was supposed to find her an inspiration for the brave declaration of her religious beliefs, but found her stubborn and foolhardy in the very difficult place and time in which she lived.
In 1635, William and Mary Dyer, with a shipload of likeminded Puritans, left England, fleeing religious persecution. Twenty-five years later, as if they had forgotten their own suffering, Puritans governed Massachusetts Bay Colony and were cruelly persecuting and punishing people with other beliefs. Mary Dyer was hanged on 1 June, 1660 in Boston for refusing to recant her faith as one of the Society of Friends (a "Quaker").
Wikipedia tells about Mary Dyer's world and life, but leaves us craving forgotten details and better understanding of her motives. Beth Powning has meticulously sifted through what was already known. Then clearly she must have immersed herself in seventeenth century England and New England ... the political, religious, and cultural landscapes ... beliefs, prejudices, and fears ... dialect and idiom ... sounds, sights, and scents ... in order to better visualize Mary Dyer's experiences.
The result is a most satisfying and plausible story of Mary Dyer's personality and the events, influences, and beliefs that guided her to welcome her own horrific execution.
Mrs. Powning offers a version of how Mary came to put her religious work and faith ahead of all else, even her children and husband. Yet the author doesn't defend, attack, or judge. Readers may feel sorry for Mary's suffering and loneliness. In the end we're left to decide whether to admire, sympathize, or be disappointed by Mary Dyer.
While reading "A Measure of Light", I was constantly delighted by Beth Powning's craft, her ability to convincingly weave her vividly imagined details between historical events.
Yet that is only one facet of her skill. She beautifully depicts midwives attending childbirth, prison cells, forbidden gatherings, and so much more, in well described detail, and at the same time she recreates seventeenth century scenes and dialogue, that include forgotten phrases, words, customs, and everyday tasks.
If you already know what a darning egg is, and the use of "doth" vs "dost" in 1640, then you'll be greatly satisfied by her realistic renderings of pioneer life and the authenticity of the dialogue on every page. If not, like me, it's not essential but you may have a fuller appreciation if you keep a dictionary nearby.
Beth Powning's artistry is enjoyably evident on every page.
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